“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen
When I was twelve years old, my sister-in-law gave me a beautifully bound copy of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, with a handwritten note inside saying how much she loved these books growing up with her sisters and how she hoped one day I would come to love them too. Giving her a hug and rolling my eyes behind her back like any pompous pre-teen girl wishing for movies and clothes instead of paper, I let those books gather dust on my shelves for about a year before touching them again.
By then I was thirteen and just as stuck-up, though I had developed some absurd desire to prove my intelligence to everyone around me. I decided the best way to do this was to expand my vocabulary by buying a 365 word of the day desk calendar and by reading as many great classic books as possible and memorizing their opening line, so I could say things like, oh yes, “call me Ishmael” or “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” just to prove how literate I was around my classmates. I’m sure you can imagine how popular this made me in high school.
You can also probably guess where I am going with this. By the time I rediscovered Jane Austen on my shelf, I plowed through Pride and Prejudice in one day, and completely, irrevocably fell in love with my namesake character and of course, Mr. Darcy. After that, it was all downhill, and I’ve been the biggest Jane Austen fan ever since, following in her footsteps in Bath, England and enrolling in Jane Austen seminars in college for extracurriculars.
If I could meet anyone dead or alive, Jane Austen would definitely make my top 5 list, along with Hemingway, Queen Elizabeth I, Augustus Caesar and Tolkien (if that doesn’t give you some insight into my personality, I don’t know what will).
All of which begs the question, why is so Jane Austen so timeless and so damn popular 200 years later?
Chawton House in Hampshire, England, where Jane Austen lived, source
I heartily believe that if Jane Austen were alive today, she would be one of the most popular bloggers out there. Why? Because not only did she know how to relate to women (and open-minded men), but also encouraged them to find their inner strength and purpose in life in the most sarcastic and romantic way possible. Boom. How many bloggers can do that?
How does that relate to travel and inspiring me to be a fearless female traveler? What does this have to do with anything? Curious minds want to know. Well for me, my love for Jane Austen helped shape my dreams for travel and my determination to have an awesome life exploring the world.
Not that Miss Austen herself traveled very much, but I think that the themes found in her novels and letters can inspire everyone to follow their dreams, whether it be traveling or something else entirely.
For me, Jane Austen was the original independent-minded woman and her morals and ideas echoed in her characters have a lot to teach us. Usually people liken her themes to love and relationships, but since I’ve become bitter in the romance department, I’ve chosen to apply her themes to travel and becoming a strong independent adventuress instead.
Here are 5 ways in which Jane Austen has encouraged me to travel fearlessly:
Has Jane Austen or any other writer or figure inspired you to travel?
1. Don’t settle for anything and be patient
This is something I think everyone faces at one point or another; do you settle for a comfortable, average life because that is what’s expected or what is easy? Or do you chose to challenge yourself, take risks, and go further than what is predictable with the faint hope for something extraordinary. Is there anything worse than looking back on a moment in your life with regret or having the thought, “why didn’t I do that?”
In her novels, Austen’s heroines are always rewarded for their steadfastness, dedication and patience. Lizzy Bennet, Fanny Price and even Jane herself refuse comfortable offers of marriage in the hope of something more. I think women face this exact issue nowadays, preferring to focus on the dream of a perfect house, white picket fence, handsome husband and 2.5 children (for example) and compromising career goals and ambitions. Don’t settle for anything less than your dreams.
This can be directly applied to travel. How many people have I met that have told me, “I wish I could do what you do and travel the world like you do.” Newsflash ladies, you totally can! Make it a priority and it’s completely possible and remember: WWJD: What Would Jane Do? My dreams are seeing the world and I’m killing myself to make it happen, and I’m doing it on my own as a women, not compromising for anything less.
2. Don’t be shy and be assertive
Jane Austen was the queen of showing just how women can take charge of their own world and lives. Shy and meek characters do not often thrive in Austen’s novels, only those who take become assertive and in command of their own lives. How little times have changed; 200 years later and this is still an issue women face all over the world, whether it’s traveling the globe or working your way up the corporate latter, women have been settling for less for far too long.
Did you know that less than 17% of board seats at Fortune 500 companies in the US are held by women? (source) And what is really sad is this massive gender gap is not only the result of antiquated, bigoted attitudes in the workplace, but also is a direct result of women not being aggressive or assertive and going after what they want.
You wouldn’t believe the crap I’ve heard over the years about traveling alone as a woman. Don’t get me wrong, there are truths to the dangers, but it is nowhere near as bad as modern stereotypes make it out to be. There is a reason that solo female travel blogs are a popular niche among bloggers, because there is a great need for it. I would have never gotten anywhere if I didn’t learn to be assertive and believe in myself and my decisions while traveling, not to mention actively trying to break down gender stereotypes while traveling.
3. Self-growth is key
Learning through mistakes is a popular theme in many of Jane Austen’s novels, something all travelers must face as well. I’ve already written a lot about this before, but it warrants repeating. All of Austen’s great heroines go through a journey of self-discovery, and that moment of pure happiness eludes them until they come to some sort of self-realization, usually after a whopper of a mistake. My favorite example is when Lizzy Bennet realizes her assumptions about Mt. Darcy are completely wrong.
The same thing happens while traveling and living abroad. How can you ever hope to gain an enlightened, open-minded opinion of the world without ever seeing the world? Nothing forces you to examine yourself quite like being yanked out of your comfort zone and exploring the world.
For me travel and self-growth are irrevocably linked. Usually I see it as a process of effing something up royally, then recognizing that I messed up, a feeling of remorse and shame (the worst feelings ever!) followed up with a desire and determination to do better in the future. This happens to me in relationships at home and relationships abroad, but it’s a lot harder to ignore when traveling, and usually I have a harder time escaping reflection, usually because I spend absurd amounts of time on buses, trains and planes thinking, pondering, and dwelling.
4. Be cautious but take risks too
What a difficult balance to find! Jane Austen is really effective about trying to find a balance between caution and risk-taking. She reminds us to be wary of just about anything, something that usually comes from trial-and-error (point #3). Look what happened to poor Miss Marianne Dashwood when she threw caution to the wind in Sense and Sensibility.
The same goes for traveling. If multiple people give you explicit warnings and advice about something, you should probably heed them. But at the same time it’s crucial to be open-minded to new opportunities and to take risks while traveling. I like to call them “calculated” risks, where the chance of me dying, being raped or kidnapped is kept to a minimum.
5. It’s ok to be a woman and have a brain
I went to a fancy-schmancy New England women’s college, and the 4 years I was there, I HATED all the of the idealist feminists I was forced to eat, sleep, and go to class with. You could probably call me the worst women’s college grad ever. But then I graduated, moved abroad and traveled for 2 years straight. One day I woke up and realized, I was actually kind of a feminist at heart, just don’t tell anyone.
How did this magical transformation come about? By traveling the world. One thing I have encountered over and over again on my journeys abroad and back at home is the same chauvinistic stereotype that women shouldn’t be aggressive or more powerful than men. Well, screw that. There is only one way to guarantee that you get what you want out of life and that’s to never give up and chase your dreams, end of story. I have met this stereotype head on and I determined to break it down on my blog.
Why should women who behave just as independently and as strongly as men be frowned upon? Any why the hell are books (and I hesitate to lump them in the same category as real literature) like Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray on the bestseller lists? God, it just reinforces the same notion that women should not be independent or strong-willed. I wish more young girls read Jane Austen instead of that garbage, and would recognize her values of independence, self-reliance, and the idea that it’s ok for women to be smart and strong-willed. Jane herself is the ultimate embodiment of this. A woman who refused to give up her writing and stories and settle for unhappiness in marriage.
All photos unless otherwise noted are my own from Bath, England, where Jane Austen lived for a while.